Plain Aviation

the life of a planespotter and true avgeek

Tag: weather

Sharper images: 5 tips for improving sharpness

An issue a lot of beginning aviation photographers face is coming home after a day of spotting to find that their images from the day are alarmingly soft and perhaps low in contrast. What can you do to save them? The answer is not much really; the Smart Sharpen tool in Photoshop can only do so much before it starts to ruin the image with noise. Sometimes images that are shot too poorly simply cannot be saved, as poor quality going into Photoshop means poor quality coming out. The only solution is to start shooting better, and my quick tips Continue reading

How to determine spotting conditions at the airport before leaving home

Before leaving my home to go out spotting, I will always check to make sure that conditions are suitable for spotting. As you may know, “suitable” conditions for spotting is much more than just the absence of rain. The light coming from the sun must be bright and coming from the right direction. The visibility must be good, and it would be most preferable if the sky is blue.

I used to judge whether it was a good day to go spotting simply by looking outside the window in the morning and checking to make sure the weather is nice. Obviously this is a very ineffective and unreliable method for a number of reasons. First of all, conditions at the airport are always going to be very different in comparison to the weather where I live, which is around 30km away as the crow flies. The airport could be covered in pollution while my neighborhood is seeing clear blue skies (this actually happens quite often), or perhaps vice-versa. In addition, the looking-outside-the-window “method” won’t help you determine the direction of light, which is important when choosing a spotting location.

A much better source of information for spotting is your location airport webcam. Most major airports offer live-stream footage or photographs taken once every few minutes from security cameras on-site or at least not far from the airport. Although the image quality is often very poor, these cameras should give you plenty of information on current spotting conditions at the airport, more than what you can get from ATIS or by looking outside the window.

This website has links to webcam footage from airports all over the world, HKG included. Most major airports are included on the list, except for Singapore Changi and perhaps several others. It’s definitely a useful tool and will save you a lot frustration.

In addition, I recommend you take a look at your local Aerodome Forecast (TAF) to ensure that the weather will not change the worse when you’re out there spotting. Last but not least, don’t forget to check the civilian weather forecast for your city.

How do I choose the right spotting location?

With most airports (usually unofficially) offering at least half a dozen different locations for spotting, it’s hard to choose which one to go to. Unless you want to spend valuable spotting moving around between locations, it’s advised that you visit no more than two locations in a day. At least for most of us, it takes long enough already just to get to the airport. To then move between locations is, at least in my opinion, a waste of time. But if something out of our control happens that makes the location unusable, for example rain, change of active runways, or change of lighting, then of course we have to make an exception.

Therefore before leaving your home, you should have had a good thought about where you’ll want to be spotting for the day. When choosing a location, you need to consider a couple of things (ranked by importance): aircraft movement, lighting, accessibility, facilities, and perhaps weather.

Aircraft movement – You want to be at a location where you have a good view of aircraft movement, otherwise the purpose of plane-spotting is obviously defeated. You don’t want to be at the threshold of a runway that’s not in use, nor do you want to be at a location that’s a mile away from the airport or doesn’t have a clear view of the aircraft. Trust me in that spotting’s not very fun when you can’t see planes.

Lighting – If your goal for spotting is to simply look at planes and you don’t care much about the photography aspect, then lighting is not really something you have to worry about. However, if you’re an aviation photographer, lighting is absolutely crucial. If you’re in a location where there’s not much light or the planes you’re trying to capture are backlit, well then I bid you good luck. NO amount of post-processing is able to save an image shot in poor lighting conditions. As a photographer you must always pay attention to the lighting conditions, as after all light is what’s entering your camera and creating your images. A lot of beginning photographers make the mistake of focusing too much on their subject or composition and not nearly enough on lighting.

Accessibility – If I had everything my way, I’d spend my days spotting on the taxiway, but obviously that’s not possible. You always need to make sure that the location you’re going to spot from is one that you can physically get to. The inside of the passenger terminal is probably my favorite spotting location at HKG you’re willing to count it as one, but obviously it’s only accessible when I’m flying out. You also need to make sure that you can get to the location in a reasonable amount of time without an unreasonable amount of fuss. The Sha Lo Wan ferry pier on Lantau Island is an off-site location that I would like to visit sometime, however it’s an absolute pain to get there and most of the time I only have half the day to go spotting and therefore it would be silly to spend two or three hours getting to a location and then having to leave after 30 minutes of spotting.

Facilities – This one’s not quite as important unless you need to make a bathroom trip every 20 minutes or fancy doing some shopping after a day of spotting, but of course facilities are nice to have. I like spotting from the observation deck at terminal 2 of HKG because I can grab lunch at a restaurant or make a bathroom trip as needed.

Weather – Weather is definitely something very important that you should always consider, but it’s probably not something that’s going to affect the decision-making process for choosing a spotting location. If it were raining or snowing you probably wouldn’t be out spotting in the first place, and even so, most spotting locations are outdoors so there’s not much you can do to stay warm and dry other than remain at home.

These are the few basic criteria that I always consider when picking my spotting location for the day, and I hope that this guide has helped you gain a better understanding the decision-making process that goes into choosing your spotting location.

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